Labor’s clout is in steep decline in the Middle West. In a move that was unimaginable just ten years ago, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a pair of “right-to-work” bills into law, dealing a serious blow to unions in one of the states that gave birth to the modern labor movement in America. The Wall Street Journal:Gov. Snyder’s willingness to sign the legislation—a reversal of his previous position that right to work was a divisive issue that he would prefer to avoid—highlights the diminution of union clout both in Michigan and nationally.Besides the realities of declining union membership, this development more broadly suggests deep splits and ambivalence in American politics: At the national level, Democrats are running strong, but in many states something different is happening. Michigan was long seen as a great example of the blue social model. The high wage, unionized automobile industry supported the state economy and promoted the development of a mass blue collar middle class. It was a great social achievement, and Americans were not wrong to love it, but it has been in gradual yet inexorable decline for more than a generation.
The UAW once had more than one million members in the U.S., and as recently as 2004 had 654,000 active members. Now, after years of cuts by Detroit’s big auto makers and their parts makers, the UAW’s national membership is down to roughly 380,000 members, according to Labor Department filings. In Michigan, about 17.5% of workers were union members in 2011, according to Labor Department figures.
Today’s blue model liberals face a challenge. Can they find a path that actually restores states like Michigan and cities like Detroit to the kind of health they knew back when the blue model actually worked?
Mead suggests that "red state conservatives have yet to show that they can deliver something better," although right-to-work states, across the country, enjoy far more robust employment sectors than do the states of the bankrupt blue state model. See Heritage: "Simple truths about Right-to-Work."